BRIGHT STAR, 2009
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, Paul Schneider, Edie Martin, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Thomas Sangster, Samuel Roukin
The drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats' untimely death at age 25.
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Premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and then appearing in some of the biggest festivals from around the world in the same year, Bight Star (dir. Jane Campion) is a lovely crafted period drama that got huge critical acclaim in the festival circuit. With the film now being released at cinemas and for home entertainment, audiences can finally see why the film was so acclaimed, despite the fact that this drama might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Based on the true story of nineteenth century British poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), the film focuses on his romantic relationship with a young woman named Frances ‘Fanny’ Brawne (Abbie Cornish) as he teachers her the art and love of writing poetry, as well as seeing how they both cope with the difficult challenges that lay ahead in front of them.
Even though the film is told very simply and we mainly focus on the two main characters mentioned, this is what makes the film very compelling since the screenwriter obviously didn’t want to tackle the issues of nineteenth century Britain, such as poverty and power of wealth, that are only used as obstacles for the two main characters’ relationship. I personally thought that this was a great choice to structure the story on, because it could’ve easily been an uneven period drama that was trying to speak about the difficulties in that part of history AND tell a romantic story, much like the final results for Marie Antoinette (dir. Sofia Coppola)
Even though the story does focus on the two characters together, we do get to see them almost as much being separate and communicating with the supporting characters. These characters each have their own personality that make them stand out quite a bit in comparison to John and Frances, including John’s uptight and smug writing partner Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider) and Frances’ younger brother Samuel Brawne (Thomas Sangster).
With the film written and directed by Jane Campion, she’s managed to do a great job in bringing this romantic story on one of the most famous poets in British history come to life.
Jane Campion has written her own projects before on other feature length films, including Holy Smoke (dir. Jane Campion) and In The Cut (dir. Jane Campion), and even though that she’s had previous experience in writing, this is her first British and period drama film. She obviously used the type of storytelling that was used in romance books from famous authors from that era, since the structure of the screenplay focuses on two characters that seem different from each other, they fall in love over a short period of time and they are individually faced with obstacles related to their amount of wealth. This makes the film very compelling and stays true to period dramas from British cinema.
As for her directing, Campion has done a few projects more in this role than her attempts at screenwriting, including a number of feature length films, a few television episodes and short films. Her direction for Bright Star was done fantastically well to show off the characters and make sure that both the shots and the lighting helped to make her portrayal on the two main characters and the locations look stunning. For example, there’s a scene where Frances is reading a letter from John while walking in a patch of purple flowers. This scene was directed brilliantly with the colours of her dress and the flowers contemplating each other, while the pale lighting, framing and the final edit managed to make it look iconic.
The biggest surprise for me about this film in the awards ceremony is the fact that it hasn’t been nominated much in the best film category, but instead it has got nominations for best costume category. I did think that the costumes were absolutely stunning in the film and I would like to talk about what made them look so good and why it has been getting nominations for this particular category instead.
Behind the film’s costume designs was Janet Patterson, who has done the costume designs for Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, as well as some of the director’s other films. What was interesting to find out was that the last film Patterson did costume designs for was Peter Pan (dir. P.J. Hogan) and what makes it interesting was the fact that there was a six-year gap of work and yet she still managed to make some amazing costumes.
The costume designs in the film contemplated very well with Frances’ passion for making her own clothes and you could tell that Patterson used the character as an opportunity to make her clothes look a bit more odd and different from the other costumes in the film. Even the costumes for the other characters looked really good and matched well with the feel and the way the film was directed. I hope the costume designer will get the nominations that she deserves.
For my overall opinion on the film, it’s definitely one of my favourite films in the period drama genre that managed to keep my attention from start to finish, with the colours, lighting and framing making the film look gorgeous. Even if you’re not really into this genre of film, it is very beautiful to look at and how these interesting characters develop over the course of the story.